the muse the dull Carnelian slight
Although it Shine with but a feeble light."
-- Marbodus, Bishop of Rennes (11th Century)
Carnelian is a very attractive and richly hued brownish-red variety of chalcedony.
Much of the carnelian used today comes from Campo de Maia on the continent of South America, where a sizeable quantity has had the colour improved by staining with ferrous nitrate. Carnelian is also produced in Warwick, Queensland, Australia. However, Ratnapura in India produces the best quality material.
Carnelian has been known since antiquity. It is said to take its name from the Kornel cherry, which has the same rich coloring. In the 1660s, Dr Johann Schroeder gave another interesting origin. He writes: "It is a half transparent, like the water wherein flesh is washed, of like bloody flesh. Hence it is called 'Carneolus' or 'Carnelian'."
Carnelian is mentioned in Exodus as one of the gems set into the breastplate of the High Priest and as a foundation stone of the New Jerusalem.
The ancient noted how carnelian separated very readily from wax or clay. This phenomenon was given a practical role when carnelian was engraved to make the beautiful intaglio seals used by kings and merchants to authenticate their documents.
The ancient Egyptians are numbered among the many people who called upon carnelian as a protective stone. It has been referred to as the "blood of Isis" (the Egyptian goddess of nature) and it was even suggested that it should be cut and shaped in a certain form and than placed at the throat of a corpse at the time of its embalming. The followers of Isis trusted in this powerful talisman to invoke the protection of their goddess any evil that might befall them on their journey through the underworld. Among the talismans and amulets carved from carnelian by the Egyptians were representations of the hand, the fist, the eye, the lion, bee, jackal head, frog and, most often, the bull's head.
Carnelian was also thought to be the talisman that resisted the onset of bed temper. According to the ancients, bad temper is a form of black magic. As the evil of black magic was often conducted by the light of a waning moon, they believed that the onset of danger could be detected by an unusual sheen over the surface of the protective carnelian.
In most countries of the Middle East, there is a widespread belief that a person looked upon with an ill-meaning of envious glance will lose his fortune. Wearing a carnelian engraved with an appropriate prayer is said to remove the evil from covetous looks and render them harmless.
Carnelian was once thought to be an excellent remedy for checking bleeding wounds and, according to Dr Johann Schroeder: "The powder of them is good to drink against all fluxes. Carried about, it makes cheerful minds, expels fear, makes courage, destroys and prevents fascinations and defends the body against all poisons. It stops blood by a peculiar property; and bound to the belly keeps up the birth." (1660s) Generally, the healing power of carnelian followed the principle that the appearance of the stone suggested how it could be used - for example, the wearing of almost any yellow stone was prescribed for treating jaundice. Carnelian has also been said to provide the timid with the courage they lack to speak boldly and well and to aid astral travel when placed in front of a light and gazed at intently.
Various Islamic peoples consider carnelian to preserve the equanimity of its owner during disputes, and they have also used slivers of the stone as toothpicks. These are used because they not only whiten the teeth, but they harden the gums and prevent them from bleeding.